Pharoh Cooper can do it all. He caught, ran, and even threw for big plays in 2014.
Cooper led South Carolina with 69 receptions, 1,136 yards and nine touchdowns. He ranked top-5 among SEC receivers in each category.
The junior had 1,489 all-purpose yards, including 200 rushing yards and 78 passing yards and 13 total touchdowns (two passing and two rushing).
If not for his 5-foot-11, 201-pound frame, Cooper would’ve been a clear-cut first round draft prospect. Instead, he will benefit from a strong senior campaign to boost his stock.
The move also benefits the Gamecocks, which lack star power. Aside from Cooper, the team looks to replace its key offensive contributors with the departures of quarterback Dylan Thompson and running back Mike Davis.
Head coach Steve Spurrier hasn’t announced a favorite in the QB battle between Connor Mitch, Perry Orth and Michael Scarnecchia, but the smart money is on Mitch.
“Connor Mitch is doing fine, and all three of them are,” Spurrier said in quotes released by South Carolina. “Statistically, they’re pretty similar. Michael Scarnechia, we need to get the ball out of his hands. Sometimes, he won’t throw it if he doesn’t think it has a chance and so forth. They all do some good things.”
Still, none of the three have enough experience for Gamecocks fans to plan a December trip to the Georgia Dome in preseason.
South Carolina was the most disappointing team in the SEC in 2014. The Gamecocks were considered to be a contender in the SEC East, but stumbled to a 7-6 (3-5 SEC) record.
South Carolina’s SEC-worst defensive line managed to allow opponents to make historic comebacks — see Kentucky and Tennessee — late in games, despite the offense’s production. Aside from Cooper, there is little reason to expect an improvement in 2015.
Cooper can do everything, but not all at once. Offensively, he gives the Gamecocks an elite weapon but lacks a quarterback capable of aiding his stat sheet. Although Brandon Wilds is a capable option, the loss of Davis slows down the run game and puts even greater pressure on the receivers.
Defensively, the Gamecocks are an example of “can’t get much worse” as an assumption for improvement. It would be difficult to see a decline in production, but the team is hardly a candidate for the conference’s best defensive unit.
Cooper should be enough to help South Carolina stay competitive in close games with big performances. However, the team shouldn’t see much improvement in his final season.
Although Cooper’s draft stock will continue to rise, it won’t be enough to salvage a deteriorating Gamecocks team.